Matthew Boulay: Combat Grass

January 10-February 18
Bush Barn Art Center | 600 Mission St. SE

Combat Grass, an installation by Matthew Boulay, honors the sacrifices of the more than 160 female soldiers who have died from war since 2002. The exhibition begins with combat boots and shoes (representing the fallen soldiers and the lives they left behind outside of their military duties) strewn over unwatered grass seed. During the exhibition, visitors are invited to spread more seed, and water the grass, eventually burying the boots and shoes.


On January 9, 2002, Marine Sergeant Jeannette L. Winters was killed when her plane struck a mountain in southwestern Pakistan. She was 25 years old – and the first U.S. servicewoman to die in the war on terror.

For the first time in the history of our nation’s wars, women are serving, and dying, with combat units in front line positions. To most of us, these women were soldiers serving our nation. To their families and friends, they were something more: real people. They were daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Some died young, just 18 or 19; others were in their 40s or 50s when they were killed.

This installation – called Combat Grass – is inspired by Carl Sandburg’s poem, Grass, and is meant to honor the sacrifices of our fallen servicewomen: the combat boot represents the soldier who was killed overseas; the shoe represents the woman who lived and loved as a wife or a mother or a sister or a daughter.

Each boot/shoe pair represents a real soldier: in the thirteen years since Sergeant Winters’ death, a total of 160 female soldiers have died from gunshot wounds, suicide bombers, roadside bombs, helicopter crashes and the other attacks, accidents, and illnesses that kill soldiers serving in combat zones.

As in Sandburg’s poem, the growth of the grass represents the passage of time, and the tension that exists between healing and forgetting. In other words, does the passage of time allow our wounds to heal, or simply make it easier to forget?


Matthew Boulay (b. 1970, Arizona) lives and works in Salem, Oregon. Boulay’s work is typified by his exploration of issues such as collective memory and the experience of war, and his use of materials that are tactile and complicated. He works in multiple media, including painting and large-scale installations, and frequently engages in inter-textuality with other works from the visual arts, literature, and history. Boulay has studied in Baltimore, New York and Madrid, and his work is greatly informed by his experiences as a Marine in Iraq. He holds a PhD from Columbia University’s Teachers College, led the Campaign for a New G.I. Bill, and is the founder of the non-profit National Summer Learning Association.


Fine Art Friday (Reception)
Friday, January 19 | 5:30-7:30 pm
Free Admission


Salem Art Association exhibitions are always free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Friday from 10 am-5 pm, and Saturday-Sunday from Noon-5 pm (Annex weekend hours may differ, please call 503-581-2228 to check availability).

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